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Friday, September 17, 2021

Denmark is first in EU to lift all coronavirus restrictions

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Denmark is set to lift all remaining coronavirus restrictions on Friday, making it the first EU country to go completely back to pre-pandemic daily life.

“The vaccines and the great efforts of all of Denmark’s citizens over such a long period are the foundation for why we are going strong,” said Health Minister Magnus Heunicke on Twitter this week. Danish health authorities approved the move in late August, after declaring that the virus is “no longer a critical threat to society” due to high vaccination rates and a low incidence of severe disease and death.

The country’s “COVID pass” will no longer be required to enter restaurants, sports centers or nightclubs, and children will no longer automatically be sent home if they come into close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case. Only those infected have to quarantine. People can go back to the office as normal, and schools are open.

The move is the latest in the country’s decisions to ease pandemic measures, including the scrapping of the mask requirement for public transit on August 13. It also comes as other Scandinavian countries like Sweden — set to drop its restrictions at the end of September — are taking advantage of the improving epidemiological outlook.

A matter of trust

For residents in Denmark, it’s a tantalizing return to pre-pandemic times. As the last of mask restrictions fell, for example, ticket controllers in commuter trains cheerfully informed masked travelers they could take off their face coverings. Those who were tourists opted to keep them on anyway, as one POLITICO reporter recently witnessed. Meanwhile, at Glyptoteket, an art museum in central Copenhagen, visitors crammed in to take advantage of the weekly admission-free day, with minimal masking and little regard for social distancing. Down the street, stages and stalls were preparing for revelers coming in for the World Pride gathering of activists and allies.

Along with the successful vaccine rollout, experts have pointed to high levels of trust in authorities. Almost three-quarters of adults are fully vaccinated and COVID-19 hospitalization rates are low.

One buzzword that some use is samfundssind, or social mindedness. It suggests a strong sense of social responsibility and accountability in Danish society. Tourists are routinely surprised when parents leave their children in prams outside cafès and restaurants. By contrast, elsewhere in Europe, trust in authorities to deal with the coronavirus is significantly lower.

“If you have low levels of trust regarding other people or the authorities, then more draconian laws are potentially required to contain the coronavirus,” said Gert Tingaard, politics professor at the University of Aarhus, in a recent interview in Science Nordic.

Sarah Wheaton and Louis Westendarp contributed reporting.

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